What is Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)?
RFID technology has been attracting considerable attention with the expectation of improved supply chain visibility for consumer goods, apparel, and pharmaceutical manufacturers, as well as retailers and government procurement agencies. It is also expected to improve the consumer shopping experience by making it more likely that the products they want to purchase are available. Recent announcements from some key retailers have brought the interest in RFID to the forefront.
Helping Businesses Increase Profits
Companies like Wal-Mart expect top suppliers to tag every pallet in an effort to reduce costs associated with managing the of huge inventory they handle every day.
The U.S. Department of Defence is also requesting its suppliers do the same.
Consider how RFID technology can help you confront business challenges such as these:
- Is being out of stock on a biotech or other inventory item expensive for your business?
- Is knowing your product’s shelf life critical for safety reasons?
- Are you spending a lot of time manually taking inventory before and after a patient’s surgery?
- Is a self-checkout system appealing to your customers?
- Would you like total visibility as your product moves through the manufacturing plant?
- Are everyday losses costing your business a small fortune?
- Would a remote vending machine eliminate product shortages?
- Is it difficult to read bar codes on your product due to frost or debris?
Products containing an RFID tag microchip can transmit data to an RFID reader and provide product identification, location, date of purchase, price, or other critical information. Unlike bar-code technology, RFID doesn’t require contact or line of sight to read data from a product containing an RFID tag. With this technology, it’s possible to read data through the human body, clothing and non-metallic materials.
An embedded controller scans products bearing a RFID tag. The controller can scan multiple RFID tags in an area and report the total number of items across the Internet.
That’s why companies everywhere are adopting this technology – to expand their data capture and tracking capabilities.
RFID technology is used today in many applications, including security and access control, transportation and supply chain tracking. It is a technology that works well for collecting multiple pieces of data on items for tracking and counting purposes in a cooperative environment.
There are many different types of tags to support a variety of applications. Tags can vary in terms of frequency at which they communicate, the protocol (or language) they speak, how they are powered and how they store data.
Security and Access control
You need Access Control system with the ability to keep track of users with valid RFID passes. When a valid user presents the pass to the RFID reader, it must unlock a door and sense when the door has been closed. Once closed, user and other control information must be sent to a host system that keeps a database of all transactions. The system must be able to remotely update the user list and other parameters via the Internet. Also, the system must continue to operate if Internet access is lost. A system can be set up that keeps track of everyone who presents a pass to the reader – valid or not. Once the person finishes using the system, information is transmitted over the Internet to a server that keeps track of all users visit information. By doing so, server-side software can automatically generate any paperwork needed for billing, replenishing inventories or alarms to indicate a control problem.
If desired, Users can update all parameters in the access control system, including the user pass list, via the Internet. They can also remotely enhance firmware over the Internet – eliminating the need for someone to travel to the site for updates.
If the system loses access to the Internet, the control continues to function, only it saves all transaction information to an internal database. The control locks down and flashes a LED if the database becomes full. While in lockdown mode, it continues attempting to connect to the Internet. Once it makes a connection, the control sends all data and automatically comes out of lockdown mode.
Readers & Tags
RFID is a method of identifying unique items using radio waves. Typical RFID systems are made up of 2 major components: readers and tags. The reader, sometimes called the interrogator, sends and receives RF data to and from the tag via antennas. A reader may have multiple antennas that are responsible for sending and receiving the radio waves. The tag, or transponder, is made up of the microchip that stores the data, an antenna, and a carrier to which the chip and antenna are mounted.
There are many different versions of RFID that operate at different radio frequencies. The choice of frequency is dependent on the requirements of the application.
Three primary frequency bands have been allocated for RFID use:
- Low Frequency (LF) (125/134KHz): Most commonly used for access control and asset tracking.
- High Frequency (HF) (13.56 MHz): Used where medium data rate and read ranges are required.
- Ultra High Frequency(UHF) (850 MHz to 950 MHz and 2.4 GHz to 2.5 GHz): Offers the longest read ranges and high reading speeds.
Applications for RFID within the supply chain can be found at multiple frequencies and different RFID solutions may be required to meet the varying needs of the marketplace. Most supply chain applications for item, carton, and pallet labelling will be addressed with either the UHF or HF frequency.
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